Feathered Bastard

Sen. Barry Goldwater, Anchor-Grandbaby

An excerpt from Bill McCune's 1991 documentary, Barry Goldwater: An American Life.

Someone recently sent me this YouTube clip from Bill McCune's excellent bio-doc Barry Goldwater: An American Life, which I first watched while researching my 2006 cover story about the ribald Goldwater we rarely see represented, Goldwater Uncut. I had forgotten about this segment of the film dealing with Goldwater's family tree, and how his grandfather was a Polish Jew by the name of Michel Goldwasser (the last name was later Anglicized to Goldwater). The snippet of Sen. Barry Goldwater being interviewed by TV great Jack Paar is most intriguing, and would've been enough to set nitwit nativists aflame, if it had been said in a contemporary context:

"Any chance that a man gets to serve his country, he's happy in," Goldwater tells Paar. "I'm happy that I have the opportunity to try and contribute something to the country that's been so good to generations of Goldwaters who sneaked into this country from England via Poland. And I just want to help pay for our rent, so to speak, on this land."

"Sneaked into this country"? What, you mean like some Mexicans do now? Sheesh, the way Goldwater's talkin', you could almost figure him for an anchor-grandbaby. Goldwater, of course, was exaggerating a tad. His grandpappy wasn't exactly an "illegal" immigrant. You know why? Because there were hardly any immigration laws back then. Yep, all you had to do, practically, was jump off the friggin' boat. And look what horrible folk took advantage of that situation: a family of merchants whose scion ended up running for President.

Those hillbilly nativists are right. Give them thar immigrants an inch and they'll take a mile.

According to history Prof. Robert Alan Goldberg's Barry Goldwater, the essential account of the late Senator's life, Michel Goldwater was a successful tailor in London, a relatively recent immigrant from Poland, when his younger brother arrived in England, and the pair decided to seek their fortunes in the California gold rush.

"Wasting little time, the Goldwater brothers chose the cheapest route to California," writes Goldberg. "They bought steerage tickets to New York City. From there, they traveled to Grey Town in Nicaragua, crossed the 212-mile-wide isthmus by mule and on foot, and then sailed up the coast to San Francisco. they left England in august 1852, and in three months they disembarked in California."

Of course, they eventually made their way to Arizona. But if you want to learn the rest of that story, you can check Goldberg's book or McCune's video out of the public library.

The Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site provides a chronological list of all U.S. immigration legislation, and as you can see for yourself, there was very little in the way of immigration regulation from 1790 to 1900. Essentially, immigrants were seen as prospective citizens. Well, as long as the alien in question was "a free white person," according to the Immigration Act of 1790. Hey, remember, the country still had slavery back then.

In 1852, captains of ships were supposed to report the aliens they were dropping off. You had to be here five years and be of good moral character in order to become a citizen. But compared to nowadays, America's welcome mat was out. There were no visas. No ICE hunting people down or asking folks for their papers. If there had been,  Barry Goldwater may never had been born. Or he may have ended up being born in England. Imagine him in a tweed vest, smoking a meerschaum pipe, and playing cricket on the weekends.

The irony is that Barry's nephew Don Goldwater is an outright nativist, who has suggested corralling undocumented immigrants and making them build a border fence while in custody. However, Barry's son, Barry Goldwater, Jr., has argued against such extremism and denounced the far-right proposals of his cousin Don and those of state legislator Russell Pearce. In a 2007 op-ed piece for the Arizona Republic, he wrote,

"This hysteria has to stop. We all walk this world as human beings, and we should all seek to understand and help one another. The citizens of Arizona and this great nation are people from all ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs and walks of life. We need to urge our lawmakers to practice tolerance and fairness, to become more involved in working for a comprehensive solution that will be just to all."

An admirable sentiment, worthy of a man from such illustrious, immigrant stock.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons